To Love Somebody-The Songs Of The Bee Gees 1966-
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A decade before the Saturday Night Fever years, the Bee Gees were writing classic songs that endure to this day. A welcome addition to Ace's Songwriter series, these recordings span the full range from the early Australian Leedon/Spin period to the soul, psych and classic pop of their 1967-1970 heyday. The top soul artists of the time would queue up to record Gibb Brothers compositions Al Green, Percy Sledge, James Carr, Nina Simone, Bettye Swann and others put their personal stamp on these instantly recognisable songs. More contemporary interpretations of psych classics by Goon Moon and Sidewalk Society stand alongside lovers rock outings by Pat Kelly and John Holt. Iconic 60s Brit-pop girls are represented by rarely heard performances from Lulu and Sandie Shaw.
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There are some real stand-out cuts here. Al Green’s ‘How Can You Mend A Broken Heart’ was an instant classic when it was first released in 1972; a year after the Bee Gees did. You can’t go wrong with the 1967 classic, ‘To Love Somebody’ and James Carr gives a good soulful version. Other stand-out hits are Percy Sledge’s interesting, ‘I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You’ and the Staple Singers very soulful, ‘Give A Hand, Take A Hand’, first recorded in 1969. Nina Simone has recorded several Gibb songs and ‘I Can’t See Nobody’ is given an entirely new interpretation that is one only Ms. Simone can give. The Marbles didn’t do much in the sixties, having been produced by Maurice Gibb, but ‘Only One Woman’ is simply a great song on its own. Can’t forget to mention Lulu, however. ‘Bury Me Down By The River’ is a lesser known Gibb song that she belts out in a way only Lulu can. It’s perfect.
There are fourteen pages of great liner notes and many photos of both Bee Gees and other artists singles sleeves.
The title song of this collection - their biggest early-period US hit "To Love Somebody" - was written with Otis Redding in mind, but he wasn't able to record it before his sudden death in late '67. What we get here is probably the closest facsimile in James Carr's Goldwax of Memphis recording of it in 1969 [his last chart record, #44 soul], It was also beautifully done by Nina Simone, who is heard here with her other superb Bee Gees cover "I Can't See Nobody."
Percy Sledge's cover of "I've Gotta Get a Message to You" (only issued in its day on a 1969 Dutch LP) sounds so letter-and-note-perfect (and overwhelmingly soulful) that it's almost hard to believe that it wasn't originally intended for him. Redding and Sledge were of approximately equal stature in the UK at the time, and the Bee Gees and Sledge were with the same U.S. record company (Atlantic). Unsurprisingly, the Staple Singers gospelize "Give a Hand - Take a Hand" to the max; and what Al Green did with "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" on his 1972 "Let's Get Together" LP floored everyone who heard it. While not a single, it was enough of an album track radio hit that it was included on Green's first "Greatest Hits" LP collection. Al Green, James Carr, Percy Sledge, Nina Simone and Bettye Swann are heard consecutively (Trks 2 through 6 here) in one of the finest blocks I've ever heard on a various artists CD that wasn't hits oriented.
South African Sharon Tandy does the disc's opening honors on the serious, probing ballad "World," which is given a soulful organ-drenched backing as she takes the song to church. Lovely and powerful.
The disc's closer is another poetic and soulful beauty in "First of May," performed by the great José Feliciano (oh that acoustic guitar).
There's a delightful mini-"block" of back-to-back Jamaican reggae renditions of Bee Gees ballads: the intriguingly introspective "I Started a Joke" done by Pat Kelly, followed by the gorgeous but less widely known "Morning of My Life" by John Holt.
Besides Spain's Los Bravos (of "Black Is Black" fame), who turn in a fairly unrestrained take on the Bee Gees' Australian R&B romp "Like Nobody Else," and Tommy Roe's 1979 minor country-chart hit version of "Massachusetts," it's just about all British the rest of the way, featuring strong efforts by stalwarts Sandie Shaw ("Sun in My Eyes") and Paul Jones (formerly of Manfred Mann, with "And the Sun Will Shine"). Scotland's R&B-oriented dynamo Lulu does her gospel-soul thing quite effectively on "Bury Me Down by the River" (unissued in its day); and I enjoy the Status Quo (of "Pictures of Matchbook Men" fame in their early days) doing a faithful cover of the Bee Gees' last and biggest hit in Australia preceding their return to the UK: the splendidly constructed, march-cadenced and unquestionably unique "Spicks and Specks."
But my two British favorites are Velvett Fogg's (nothing to do with Mel Tormé!) quasi heavy-rock and totally convincing version of "New York Mining Disaster 1941," featuring some blistering guitar licks; and the biggest hit by far of any here [in fact, it reached #5 in the UK in the autumn of 1968], the two-hit-wonder Marbles' striking take on the hook-laden power ballad "Only One Woman." The Bee Gees provided the vocal backup to the commanding (and stunningly rangy) lead of one Graham Bonnet (who subsequently joined Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow).
This is a stellar Ace Records compilation with the usual amenities: impeccable sound mastering; a 16-page booklet with color illustrations on every page: photos, repros of record jackets and song-sheet covers, label scans, the works; plus, annotations by compilation producer Tony Berrington explicating each track and artist while doing concise double duty: providing information about the Bee Gees' original as well as the cover versions and the acts who performed them.